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Visiting Ka’anapali Beach Hawaii From Maui Cruise Ports

Visiting Ka’anapali Beach Hawaii From Maui Cruise Ports

A day trip to Ka’anapali Beach is easy from either of Maui’s cruise ports. Find out all about transportation options and fun things to do on your perfect Maui beach day!

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During my 15-day cruise roundtrip from Los Angeles to Hawaii, I knew I wanted to spend a day at Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach. Often named one of the world’s best beaches, Ka’anapali is just a short drive from the cruise port in Lahaina.

But when I received an email from Princess Cruises that our port stop in Lahaina would be changed to the port of Kahului due to construction, I was worried that the extra time and expense traveling to and from the beach wouldn’t be worth it.

I decided to just do it—yes, it was a bit of a hike from the cruise port (and a pretty pricey Uber ride), but the beach day that Mr. SBC and I spent at Ka’anapali was definitely worth it.

Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Ka’anapali Beach from either of Maui’s cruise ports!

Why visit Ka’anapali Beach?

The Hawaiian islands are known for gorgeous beaches, and Ka’anapali is definitely one of the most beautiful. The readers of Hawai’i Magazine voted it the #1 best beach in Hawaii in 2022!

If you’re looking for one of the best places to spend a relaxing beach day on Maui, Ka’anapali Beach is the ideal location. With three miles of pristine sandy beach and crystal-clear water for lounging, swimming, and water sports, plus access to shopping, dining, and two beautiful golf courses, Ka’anapali offers something for everyone.

How far is Ka’anapali Beach from Maui’s cruise ports?

The island of Maui has two cruise ports: Lahaina and Kahului. If you’re lucky enough to stop at Lahaina cruise port, the beach is only about four miles (6.4 km) from the cruise terminal, about a 15-minute drive.

Kahului cruise port is much farther away, about 45 minutes from the beach by car, but it’s a wonderfully scenic drive along the coast.

Check out the interactive map of Maui below (I’ve marked the two cruise ports as well as the beach with red pins—just hover over them for more info):

How to get to Ka’anapali Beach from Kahului cruise port

Although it’s not difficult to get from the cruise port at Kahului to Ka’anapali, it’s definitely not cheap. There are public buses that will get you there and back for $12 roundtrip, but it’s a two-hour journey each way—not exactly the most time-efficient way to spend your day on Maui!

Here are the best practical ways to get from Kahului to Ka’anapali Beach:

By taxi or rideshare

If you’re thinking about taking a taxi or rideshare to the beach from Kahului cruise terminal, you’ll need to consider that only licensed taxis are allowed to pick up and drop off right at the terminal gate.

However, the line for taxis can be incredibly long, so a rideshare might be a better option—this is what we chose to do.

To catch an Uber or Lyft, you’ll need to exit the terminal completely, which is a bit of a walk through the industrial portion of the port.

The easiest place to wait for a rideshare is in the parking lot of a small shopping complex on E. Kaahumanu Avenue. Maui Mall Village (you’ll notice Longs Drugs and Whole Foods) is where most rideshare drivers will go when picking passengers up from the cruise port.

Pro tip: It’s about a ten-minute walk to the mall via a pathway through the port area, so it’s a good idea to wait until you get to the parking lot to summon your ride.

What did it cost for our Uber to Ka’anapali Beach? In December 2022, with just light traffic to and from the beach, it cost us about $85 each way.

By rental car

Lots of cruisers choose to rent a car while on Maui, and if you’re planning to go from Kahului to Ka’anapali Beach, having the option to drive yourself might make sense, especially if you want to explore more on your own.

During our visit, I spoke to several cruisers who had rented a car, and most paid about $150 for a day’s rental.

There are two large car rental agencies with locations near the cruise port. Enterprise has a location in Maui Mall Village, and Hertz also has a location on West Kaahumanu Avenue.

If you’re using one of the other major car rental agencies, you might need to pick up and drop off your rental car at Kahului Airport, which is about an 8-minute taxi ride (2.6 miles / 4.2 km) from the cruise terminal.

Some rental car agencies offer shuttles from the port to the airport for customers, so check with your preferred agency before your trip.

Alternatively, there are a couple of local rental car companies that are within walking distance of the cruise port:

  • Beach Cars Co: (808) 500-9595
  • 808 Rentals: (808) 871-7433
  • Maui ECO Rental Car: (808) 873-6121

As part of a group tour

Group tours from Kahului to Ka’anapali Beach aren’t super-easy to find. On my Princess cruise, it wasn’t offered as a shore excursion at all.

I checked my favorite shore excursion aggregators (you can find them on my Travel Resources page) and there was nothing.

There weren’t even independent vendors at the port to book last-minute—security is very tight and they’re not able to set up there.

However, if you’re cruising on Norwegian’s Pride of America (which sails in Hawaii year-round) you might consider their “Lahaina on Your Own” shore excursion, then follow my tips below to get to the beach.

How to get to Ka’anapali Beach from Lahaina cruise port

If your ship stops at Lahaina cruise port, accessing Ka’anapali Beach is much quicker and less expensive. Taking a short taxi or rideshare will be your easiest option, as the beach is only four miles (6.4 km) from the port.

If you’d rather take the public bus to the beach, It’ll take you a bit over 30 minutes, but it only costs $2 each way. Walk to the bus stop at Wharf Cinema Center and catch either the #28 or #25 bus to Whalers Village.

Accessing Ka’anapali Beach without staying at a hotel

Like all beaches in Hawaii, Ka’anapali is open to the public up to the high tide line. But I was a bit nervous that we’d have trouble finding a public access point to the beach, since I knew that hotels line almost the entire strip.

If you’re also worried about finding an access point, don’t be—there are lots of them all along the beach between the hotels.

Our driver dropped us off in the parking lot next to Whalers Village, which has probably the most obvious direct public access to Ka’anapali Beach. But if you want to hit the sand on the south or north end of the beach, this Maui Beach Access map shows where you can find all the public access points.

Things to do at Ka’anapali Beach

Of course, you can just plop your beach towel on the sand and get your relaxation on. But for those who like a little more activity on a beach day, Ka’anapali won’t disappoint.

Cruise pro tip: If you’re planning a beach day during your Hawaii cruise, there’s no need to pack beach towels! All cruise lines provide beach towels that you’re welcome to take off the ship.

Walking the Ka’anapali Historical Trail

Ka’anapali isn’t just a modern-day vacation spot—it’s the site of the ancient fishing village of Keka’a and the royal gardens for Maui’s chiefs. By the early 20th century, royalty and commoners alike would visit Ka’anapali’s famous horse racing track to place their wagers.

If you love history, walking the Ka’anapali Historical Trail is the perfect way to find out more about what this gorgeous location was like before it became a popular tourist resort for visitors from around the world.

Beginning at the northern end of the beach and winding along the coast to the south, the Ka’anapali Historical Trail is a series of ten lava rock historical markers highlighting important spots in the area’s past.

The Ka’anapali Beach Resort Association offers a free map for a self-guided tour of the trail.

Cliff jumping at Black Rock

On the far northern tip of the beach, you’ll notice a large rocky outcropping—Black Rock, or Pu’u Keka’a as the locals call it.

People have enjoyed cliff jumping at Black Rock for many centuries. Maui’s last ruling chief, King Kahekili, was a fan of cliff jumping, and it’s said that Pu’u Keka’a was one of his favorite places to jump.

This lava rock point is a place of cultural significance, as the ancient Hawaiians believed that the souls of the dead would enter the spirit world by jumping off here.

Today, you’ll see locals and tourists jumping off of Black Rock into the surf twenty feet below. Even if you’re too chicken to jump (like me) it’s worth trekking to the northern end of the beach to watch the acrobatics.

The waters around Black Rock are also an excellent snorkeling location, but be sure not to venture north of the point where currents are particularly dangerous.

Water sports and tours

Ka’anapali Beach is an excellent starting point for a variety of water activities, from taking a whale watching tour to spot humpback whales and sea turtles, to snorkeling or learning to surf.

There are several tour and equipment rental companies set up around Whalers Village that offer same-day tickets. But to save time and ensure your spot, you might want to pre-book before you go.

Here are some of the top-rated water activities at Ka’anapali Beach:

Playing golf at one of two championship courses

If you’d rather be out of the sand and on the green, Ka’anapali Beach is home to two fantastic golf courses: the Royal Kaʻanapali and the Kaʻanapali Kai.

The Royal Ka’anapali is one of only two Robert Trent Jones-designed courses in Hawaii. Arnold Palmer called its par 4 18th hole one of the most challenging finishing holes he’d ever played.

The Ka’anapali Kai is a little more forgiving, as it was originally created as an executive course before a redesign in 1976. The golf course’s undulating greens can accommodate all levels of play.

Fun fact: The beach was once the vacation spot for the royal chiefs of Maui. They enjoyed playing a form of lawn bowling with stones on the land that’s now the Ka’anapali Kai golf course.

Whalers Village at Ka’anapali Beach

Although the main focus of Ka’anapali Beach is the gorgeous sand and surf, you might want to break up your beach activities with a little souvenir shopping. Especially if it’s your only day on Maui!

Located in the center of the beach, Whalers Village shopping center has stores in every price range—from high-end shopping (including their Louis Vuitton boutique) to affordable gift shops.

Whalers Village is also home to the Hawai’i Wildlife Discovery Center, with over 30 exhibits showcasing the state’s marine life, culture, and conservation efforts.

In the center’s Kids Zone, young visitors can use pieces of debris to create art while learning how plastic pollution affects the ocean habitat of local marine life.

Restaurants at Ka’anapali Beach

Whether you’d like to have a quick snack, enjoy a leisurely meal at a fine dining restaurant, or anything in-between, you’ll have plenty of choices at Ka’anapali Beach.

Although the entire beach is free for the public to visit, resort hotels line the beach side-by-side for the entire stretch. Many of these hotels have oceanfront restaurants and/or bars that are super-convenient to beachgoers—but they all come with a premium price tag.

Unlike many beaches in popular resort areas, you can’t just walk a block or two back from the sand and find a main street with cheaper alternatives. At Ka’anapali Beach, if you walk a block back away from the beach you’ll find yourself in the middle of a giant golf course!

Mr. SBC and I had noticed the ocean-view Huihui Restaurant at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel during our beach walk, and both the menu and location looked perfect for lunch.

I had the Makawao Avocado & Crab Salad ($23) and Mr. SBC ordered the Molokai Venison Burger ($23), both of which used locally-sourced ingredients. We both washed down our delicious lunch with a Watermelon Crush cocktail ($15) made with Lahaina’s own Valley Isle Kombucha and PAU Maui Vodka—big thumbs up from both of us!

For a less expensive meal, head over to Whalers Village where you’ll find fast-casual restaurants like Maui Poke, Da Nani Pirates for seafood, and Choice Health Bar for plant-based cuisine.

Safety at Ka’anapali Beach

If you’re planning to swim, snorkel, cliff jump, or enjoy other water sports during your beach day, you’re probably wondering—is Ka’anapali Beach safe?

Ka’anapali beach isn’t patrolled by lifeguards. So take that into consideration if you or your children decide to go into the water.

If conditions are exceedingly rough, local authorities will put out red flags, signifying heavy tide, strong undertow, or other dangerous conditions.

But even if you don’t see the red warning flags, that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe to get in the water, especially if you’re visiting on your own or supervising kids from the shoreline.

On the day that Mr. SBC and I visited Ka’anapali Beach, there weren’t any red flags or warning signs posted. I wouldn’t say the water was packed with swimmers, but there were definitely several hundred people on the expansive beach and about two hundred in the water.

Although the beach wasn’t on safety alert, I noticed that the wave height really varied—you might see fifty smallish waves come ashore, and then everyone at the shoreline would be hit with a monster wave that came well up on the beach.

When we walked around at lunchtime we noticed that several of the water sports rental stands had put up signs stating: “Due to rough surf conditions, we won’t be renting equipment today.”

Tip: For updated surf conditions and forecasts, check out Hawaii Beach Safety’s page on Hanakao’o Park (the public park at the southern tip of the beach) before you go.

Amenities and facilities at Ka’anapali Beach

Sometimes the amenities and facilities offered at a beach can really make (or break!) your relaxing day. Here’s what Ka’anapali Beach offers for free and paid amenities.

Parking at the beach

If you’re renting a car to drive to Ka’anapali Beach, you’ll be glad to know that there’s free (but very limited) public parking at Whalers Village.

If that’s full, there are three other small public parking areas, one on the northern end and two on the southern end of the beach (see the red “P” pins on the interactive map below):

Public toilets and changing facilities at the beach

I didn’t see any “official” public toilet facilities or changing areas at the beach, although there are plenty of clean restrooms both at Whalers Village and at the resorts and restaurants on the beach.

Many of the hotels on the beach have restrooms near their pool or outdoor dining areas, and although they’re not officially open to the public, I didn’t see anyone checking keycards. Plus, our Uber driver recommended that we use them!

Public showers at the beach

If you need to rinse the sand and salt off your skin before you leave, there are multiple open-air showers along the walkway that runs parallel to the beach. All of the showers have both full-height and foot sprayers.

Lounger and umbrella rentals at the beach

Unlike many of the best beaches I’ve visited around the world, Ka’anapali doesn’t have obvious lounger and umbrella rentals everywhere. Although not seeing thousands of identical umbrellas cluttering up the beach makes the view nicer, the idea of spending a day in the sun without any shade can be a deal-breaker for many.

If you need an umbrella or beach chair for your day at Ka’anapali, there are a few nearby companies that will rent them for the day:

  • The Snorkel Store (beach chairs, umbrellas): 2580 Keka’a Drive #113, Lahaina
  • Boss Frog’s (beach chairs, umbrellas): 3636 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Lahaina
  • Ka’anapali Beach Hotel (beach chairs, loungers, umbrellas, cabanas): 2525 Ka‘anapali Parkway,
    Lahaina
  • Sea Maui Surf (beach chairs, umbrellas): Whalers Village, 2435 Ka‘anapali Parkway, Lahaina

Tip: If you get to the beach early enough, you might be able to find a shady spot under a stand of trees. We found the perfect spot in the sand right near the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, but there are a few other small shady areas along the beach.

Free reef-safe sunscreen at the beach

I was surprised to see several complimentary reef-safe mineral sunscreen dispensers at the beach! The free Raw Elements sunscreen, provided by the Hawai’i Tourism Bureau and Maui Visitors & Convention Bureau, is safe for all ages and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Visitors might not know that Maui County passed a law in 2022 banning the sale and use of all non-mineral sunscreens. So take advantage of the free sunscreen dispensers, or pack your own (my fave reef-safe mineral sunscreen is by MyCHELLE Dermaceuticals—read my full review here).

Ka’anapali Beach FAQ

Looking for frequently-asked questions about visiting Ka’anapali Beach on a cruise? Here’s my FAQ about Ka’anapali Beach. Have more questions I haven’t answered here or in the post? Just pop them in the comments below and I’ll reply with answers about this popular spot on beautiful Maui.

How far is Ka’anapali Beach from Maui cruise port?

Maui has two cruise ports, Lahaina and Kahului. Ka’anapali Beach is a 15-minute drive from Lahaina cruise port, and a 45-minute drive from Kahului cruise port.

Is Ka’anapali Beach free to visit?

Ka’anapali Beach doesn’t have an entry fee and is free for the public to visit.

Is there public parking at Ka’anapali Beach?

There is a limited amount of free public parking at Ka’anapali Beach, at Whalers Village and at most of the beach resorts.

Does Ka’anapali Beach have lifeguards?

Ka’anapali Beach does not have lifeguards on duty.

Can you rent umbrellas, beach chairs, or cabanas at Ka’anapali Beach?

Umbrella and chair rentals aren’t available right on the beach, but several local companies including The Snorkel Store, Boss Frog’s, Sea Maui Surf, and the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel offer daily rentals for beachgoers.

Are there public toilets at Ka’anapali Beach?

Although Ka’anapali Beach doesn’t have its own public toilets, there are restroom facilities at the Whalers Village shopping area, located off the central part of the beach.

Are you thinking about spending a day at Ka’anapali Beach on your Hawaii cruise? Does your ship stop at Lahaina or at Kahului? I’d love to hear your questions or opinions in the comments below!


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Ellen T.

Tuesday 17th of January 2023

My husband and I are taking a cruise on Norwegian in Hawaii next month and we love the beach. I did some research on the web and didn’t see any good beaches near the port (we stop at Kahului). I’m so glad I found your write up! One question though. Did you see any places that have live Hawaiian music or hula dancing near Kaanapali beach? You said the beach is surrounded by hotels and then a big golf course. But is there anything else there for that “Hawaiian experience”? This will probably be our only Hawaii trip and we want to make the most of it.

Carrie Ann

Thursday 19th of January 2023

Hi Ellen, during our day at Ka'anapali Beach I noticed that quite a few of the beachside restaurants had live music from about lunchtime on. The musicians usually played in the open-air parts of the restaurants, so you could enjoy it even from the nearby beach. Not all of the songs were Hawaiian though - I heard a lot of Jimmy Buffet and other typical "beach vibes" styles. I didn't see any dance performances. I've read that there sometimes is more traditional entertainment in the area in the evenings, but most of the cruise ships aren't in port then. Hope you enjoy your Hawaii cruise!